Your Reckoning is Now: An Open Letter to Corporate America on Juneteenth
Updated: Jun 20
Dear Corporate America,
It was good seeing you last night. I ordered some products just this morning, and you’ve already managed to get them out the door. I’m working from home these days and the flexibility allows me to patronize your stores and browse your products in between virtual meetings.
There’s something deeply personal that I want to talk with you about. And ultimately, it will be personal for you, too.
Like the rest of us, you’ve seen Black community members physically crushed and suffocated to death. Some of your employees have shared with you how painful this time has been. Equally poignant is the fact that these are not unprecedented times.
You’ve made some great shows of solidarity over the past several weeks. You’ve publicly stated how much Black lives matter to you. In several instances, you’ve put your money where your mouth is.
Kudos, my friend.
These are great first steps. I hope that you don’t see the outcomes of your actions as a business case. I hope that you do see your action as a moral imperative. It's about time you tell the whales and polar bears that they can wait.
That you’ve made outward expressions of your support for the anti-racism movement, I’d like to know what you're doing on the inside of your organizations. I want to see what changes you’re committed to making there.
Today is Juneteenth, a holiday created by formerly enslaved Black people in America that celebrates the day we were notified that the Emancipation Proclamation had been signed two years earlier. Unbeknownst to us, we’d been legally emancipated two full years before we were allowed to put down our field tools, unburden ourselves from the stockpiles of warehoused goods, and let the forge die in the workshops from which our forced labor created wealth for white landholders and business men.
Slavery is the foundation of America’s wealth. And capitalism fueled the idea that one man could own human property that increased his ability to produce wealth. Now, the American corporation is the vehicle through which capitalism is practiced. Therefore, there is a direct linkage between you and the oppression of Black Americans; from slavery, and through the vestiges of that system that now encompass structural and institutional racism, white supremacy, policing, and voter suppression, among others.
Black Americans, though born out of this capitalist system starting with slavery, have tried our hands at participating in it; assimilating into it. But, we were shut out.
So we created our own. We created bustling communities and economic hubs of our own. Then, they were violently looted, burned, and in some cases bombed by white Americans. 1857: Seneca Village, New York City. 1898: Wilmington, North Carolina. 1906: Atlanta. 1921: Tulsa. 1923: Rosewood, Florida. 1972: Philadelphia. This list is not exhaustive.
And when we tried again to navigate through unfair, violent, oppressive and complex systems of culture, policy and institutions that would be determinants for the outcomes we see in our lives, we were again shut out with efficacy: denied loans and access to capital, red-lined out of neighborhoods, strategically displaced, falsely accused of crime, poisoned through industrial run-off and polluted air we breathed in our own homes, suffocated and policed. To. Death.
By now, you are reading this letter on the edge of your seat, wide-eyed and gesturing between incredulous gasps of righteousness. This is your white fragility.
I am concerned that you do not view yourself as having an active role in dismantling racism. It may be because you know that your identity and stature would be challenged if you were to honestly reflect on this history and its contemporary implications.
It is now Juneteenth of the year 2020, and we are facing the same pandemic of anti-Black racism 135 years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed.
Today, your reckoning has come. It is time for you to lead.
Corporate America is a cog in this machine we rely on to create our world. And if you were to press start, the world would follow your lead.
Just as the Industrial Revolution was a time of innovation and creation, so too can this era be a time of change and liberation.
Just as factories and job creation spurred urbanization and inspired folks to migrate from their rural homes into urban centers, anti-racist initiatives in corporate America can spur equity and inspire folks to move from white supremacy to racial equality.
Just as newly invented machines required less manual labor, yet yielded increased output, so can anti-racist corporate reform contribute to the extinguishment of white supremacy, and amplification of Black voices.
Just as labor protections and environmental regulations kept companies in check, so can anti-racist corporate reform create policies to keep managers and decision-makers in check, expanding the runway for the promotion of Black leadership and equitable compensation.
Just as the growth of the private sector created the need for checks and balances and good governance systems, so can anti-racist corporate reform fill gaps in the funding of Black start-ups, and create workforce development pipelines accessible to Black students.
While anti-Black racism is a deeply personal issue because it permeates every structure within our society and touches me daily in very real ways, my intention is to help you see how much it also touches you. It touches your employees. It touches your stakeholders. It touches your business. Riots, anyone?
And you have the power to be a part of the change, not just superficially through prose and tax write-offs, but through deeply internal, honest reflection leading to action within your organizations.
Juneteenth is the day my people got free. And it is also the day that you can choose to chart a path toward liberating yourself of the systems that continue to fuel racial inequality.
Faith without works is dead(ly),